The Helen Thomas smackdown

Veteran White House press corps reporter lays into Scott McLellan on domestic spying.

Published February 7, 2006 10:27PM (EST)

Even after a dust-up last summer regarding how infrequently President Bush calls on the women who make up approximately a quarter of the White House press corps, there's one broad it's always been impossible to ignore: Helen Thomas.

During yesterday's press conference, the legendary Thomas, who's been covering the White House since 1961, decided to drive press secretary Scott McClellan absolutely batty by giving him a piece of her mind -- along with a civics and history lesson -- on the illegality of domestic wiretapping.

Crooks and Liars has a transcript and video of the exchange that is really worth checking out.

The best is hearing how discombobulated McClellan becomes at the mention of N-I-X-O-N. When Thomas casually tosses off the observation, "You know what happened to Nixon when he broke the law," McClellan gets all freaked out, telling her, "This is a completely different circumstance and you know that." He then tries to head her off by calling on another reporter, but is so ruffled that he cuts that reporter off to scold Thomas more, returns to the second guy, and then cuts him off again to get in a final dig at Thomas.

Amazing, though, how his desire to have the last word just makes him look all the more panicked and defensive. And amazing how fun it is to hear a reporter get over the niceties of the press conference format and give an old-fashioned lecture.

Jessica at Feministing is also big on not observing the niceties, and sums up the exchange this way: "Helen Thomas Rocks My Fucking World."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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